ELF sends strong message with release of Stuttgart Surge QB Jacob Wright in response to racial slur

The European League of Football sent a pointed message that racism will not be tolerated in the new league on Monday, with the Stuttgart Surge announcing that starting quarterback Jacob Wright has been released by the club following allegations that the player used a racial slur in Sunday’s game.

“We took the time after the game on Sunday to calmly deal with the incident and talk to everyone involved,” Surge general manager Timo Franke said in a statement.At Stuttgart Surge there is no place for any form of racism.¬†Jacob Wright has allowed himself to be drawn to insults that we will not tolerate.”

Those sentiments were echoed by ELF Commissioner Patrick Esume, who insisted there was no room for discussion on whether Wright should be allowed to continue in the league.

“Openness and tolerance is more than mere lip service in the European League of Football, but something we live by,” Esume said via a league statement. “Therefore, for us as a league, there was no question on how we would handle this situation.”

The swift decision by the league and its teams to bar Wright from employment was met with a generally positive reception across the European football community, putting to bed a growing controversy over the handling of the initial incident by league officials.

Near the end of the second quarter of the Frankfurt Galaxy’s 42-20 victory over Stuttgart on Sunday, Wright entered into a verbal altercation with Frankfurt linebacker Kadel King, allegedly calling the opponent a “black p***y.” The referee on hand issued an ejection for the language, but overturned the call at halftime after being petitioned by the Surge coaching staff.

Wright’s return sparked obvious anger from the Galaxy, which reached a boiling point post-game when some refused to shake the quarterback’s hand. According to reports, Wright issued more slurs in response, though this incident took place off-camera after the broadcast had concluded.

Regardless of the intent of Jacob Wright, the racialized language used against King during the game was simply unacceptable by any objective standard. Some might deem the punishment meted out as harsh for words said in the heat of battle and in someways it is, but the ELF had no option but to send a clear and direct message that the behavior in question would not be tolerated. After the failure of referees to deliver that message during the contest, this was the correct, and perhaps only, decision available to them to head off the controversy.

A precedent has now been set and expectations regarding on-field conduct laid out for players in the plainest of terms, but while Wright’s release will satisfy those angry at the league, the ELF has not yet publicly addressed how they will handle the underlying issues that allowed the situation to spiral out of control.

An incident such as this one, especially one that was observed by an official, needed to be handled more deftly by the referees. It is fair to speculate that had Wright’s ejection been upheld, the situation controlled and a genuine apology issued by the player, the punishment issued by the league might not have been so severe. Instead, the decision to bend to the will of Stuttgart’s staff and allow Wright back on the field intensified the issue, put players in an unsafe situation, and undermined the authority of referees league wide.

The crew in question has no doubt been chastised behind closed doors, but the league also has an obligation to clear up the confusion that created the reversal. Wright’s language, while highly distasteful, falls somewhat outside the traditional definition of a racial slur that would be associated with automatic ejection. Instead it tacked on an unnecessary racial descriptor to obscene language that wouldn’t normally result in severe punishment. The result was a gut call by the official that he had enough uncertainty about to reverse.

This case now sets a precedent but the league must deliver clarity for it to be properly enacted. Does the use of any racial descriptor accompanied by a negative connotation result in ejection or just certain ones in certain circumstances? In a global-minded league, it’s valid to ask whether national descriptors will be treated in a similar fashion. Had ‘black’ been replaced by ‘Brazilian’ or ‘Polish’, would that form of discrimination have merited ejection?

The ELF may choose to define their policy however they wish, but they must deliver it with the utmost clarity to officials and fans alike. Uncertainty must never again allow a situation like this to fester and if the league truly believes there is “no room for discussion” on racism, they must clearly legislate the traditional grey area that allows one to take place.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.